Children's hospital site 'a political decision'


THE DECISION to locate the new national children’s hospital at the Mater site in Dublin was “a political decision, a northside job, I’ve no doubt in the world about it”, the former chairman of the board set up to build it said last night.

Philip Lynch told The Irish Times he had been “lured” into taking on the job as chairman of the hospital development board on a pro bono basis by former health minister Mary Harney and former HSE chief executive Brendan Drumm on the basis that it was the right location.

More than 12 months into his job he discovered there were legitimate reasons to question the suitability of the site, he said. No proper access or other studies had been carried out, he maintained. “All it was was ‘Drive on, bulldoze it, make it happen and to hell with the consequences’,” he said.

To suggestions that experts had pinpointed it as an appropriate location, he responded: “Who commissioned the experts to start with? You really get the answer you want by commissioning the expert you want. I don’t believe any planning or thought was put into it. This was a ‘must have’ decision and it was going to be on the Mater site or nowhere.”

He said former taoiseach Bertie Ahern had promised the Sisters of Mercy they would get their hospital. Mr Ahern, in whose former constituency the Mater site is located, could not be reached for comment.

Mr Lynch said it was costing around €250 million more than it would cost on “any normal site” to try and “shoehorn” the hospital into “a very very difficult site”. More than 100,000 tonnes of rubble would have to be removed to make way for a car park four stories below basement, he added.

He said the hospital could be built on a greenfield site near the M50 for €400 million, or if it was his call, in the current economic climate, he would give serious consideration to building it in Crumlin.

The car park at the hospital there could be put underground and a 300-bed facility built on site. This would only cost about €200-€250 million, and combined with beds at Tallaght Hospital, could “get us by for the next 20 or 30 years”. There was no need for it to be co-located with an adult hospital, he believed.

Latest estimates from the HSE suggest it will cost €650 million to build the hospital at the Mater, but Mr Lynch said it was more likely to cost €750 million.

He said there was “a strong minority” on the development board who shared his views, and “when I gave them space at the boardroom table that was when I think my popularity with Ms Harney went south”, he added. He resigned last October.

Mr Lynch said he was speaking out now because new Minister for Health Dr James Reilly was going to review the decision to site the hospital at the Mater, and had promised to consult him during this exercise. A spokeswoman for Dr Reilly said he was committed to building a new paediatric hospital, but would first review “all the facts” to determine the best way to expedite it.

The current chairman of the hospital development board, John Gallagher, yesterday welcomed Dr Reilly’s intention to carry out a review, but repeated his view that the Mater was a suitable site for the new hospital.

A spokesman for Ms Harney said she utterly rejected the suggestion that the location of the site for the hospital was politically motivated. He said the process of adhering to the expert advice was “rigidly observed”.